All Things Disasterous



I never did show the picture book of Pompeii to the daughter who would have loved to have seen it. Ever since Sarah was small, she was fascinated by disasters, both natural and man made. It started with earthquakes and the fires in San Francisco and then Chicago. It expanded to natural disasters of all varieties- the thought of asteroids colliding with the earth, hurricanes and tornadoes, volcanic lava burying villages and polar ice caps melting. She loved every disaster movie. No matter how bad everyone else thought one was, Sarah would find it great. When the movie Titanic released, instead of falling in love with Leo DiCaprio, Sarah fell into obsession with the ship.


She borrowed books from the library, researched Titanic records on line, and even printed out passenger lists. All she wanted that year for Chanukah were books about the Titanic, as we explained to everyone: not the movie- the ship! This was in 1997; Sarah was 9 years old. To this day, there is a three dimensional Titanic ship on her desk. If I have any regrets about what I did not share with Sarah, before she died, it would be that book about Pompeii. Because I know she would have loved it.


Sarah loved everything science. She was sure she wanted to be a Chemist, until she took a geology class. We should have foreseen that, from a natural disaster standpoint. Her favorite project of that class had to do with volcanoes. I wanted her to pick Vesuvius. First of all, I had this great book about Pompeii. Not only would she learn about one of the most infamous world volcanoes, but also about the civilization it buried. It was a volcano that she easily could visit on a future European adventure. But instead, she chose Pinatubo, probably because I didn't suggest it. In the Philippines, Pinatubo last erupted in 1994. I am sure the fact that it erupted during her lifetime fascinated Sarah.



Just last spring, Sarah, her grandmother, sister and I went on a tour of the Lackawanna Coal Mine in Scranton, PA. It is a restored deep anthracite mine. The 2-hour tour felt like 15 minutes to Sarah, whose inquisitive eyes squinted up every vein she could reach. The stories of mine fires and floods intrigued her. The talk of mine collapses and dynamite blasting peaked her well-developed disaster interests. She was looking forward to taking her dad down that mine, at some point in the future. That time never came.



Sarah loved disaster movies, even the ones the critics panned. Their opinions didn't count when it came to disaster movies. Asteroid, Titanic, Independence Day, earthquake, Twister, Dante's Peak, The Core, even Jurassic Park with her dad, were favorites. Sarah even adored The Day After Tomorrow. I don't think I talked to anyone else who found that movie suspenseful or good. Sarah did.



Sarah died on September 13, 2004. Ten days later, scientists monitoring Mt. Saint Helens, in Washington State, described "volcanic unrest." On October 2, they raised the danger level to a Code red. With no substantial activity, but some elevation at the core, the level is now code orange, with little chance of an explosive eruption. I know that Sarah would have been excited to see the activity around Mt. Saint Helens. When the unrest started, I turned to my husband and said in jest," If no one is hurt, Sarah is behind it." No one was. In my heart I like to think that she was part of that and enjoyed every minute.



In my heart, I would like to believe that she has seen Vesuvius too, and has no need to look through my book. In my heart, I want to think that Sarah gets front row seats at all the movies she wants. So when a new disaster movie comes out, know that Sarah has already seen it, at its premiere.

When a tornado rips open land, and earthquakes unsettle land, when tidal waves engulf land, I will know as long as no one was hurt, Sarah was there.